The Kressmans found their ideal empty nest in a penthouse with a bird’s-eye view. But it took vision to see past a choppy warren of rooms to the condominium’s greatest charm, a panoramic vista of Brandywine Creek and the city of Wilmington beyond.
“The interior didn’t matter so much,” Annabelle Kressman says. “It was the view I was after.”
Another attraction was an opportunity to live in the city, close to cultural and artistic venues in a neighborhood steeped in history.
The earliest residents of Brandywine Village set up housekeeping before the American Revolution. The cluster of mills established on the banks of the river played a strategic role in the war, providing flour for George Washington’s troops.
But by 1890, the mills were silent. All traces of a once-vibrant industry went up in smoke when the structures burned in 1933.
In 1984, the first high-rise condos went up on Superfine Lane, so named for the finely ground flour once produced there.
When the Kressmans moved in eight years ago, their two-story unit was due for an update. To give the condo a fresh start that would maximize the view, the couple redesigned the living space, removing an ill-conceived fireplace sandwiched between the kitchen and living room.
Most of the square footage was devoted to a large, inefficient kitchen and casual dining area, leaving little space for gathering or formal dining.
To create a smaller, elegantly outfitted kitchen, the Kressmans hired Fersch Construction Co. of Newport, operated by father John and son Ken. They installed deep, rich cherry cabinets and a built-in desk for correspondence. Pots and pans hang from a rack over a central island.
“They are wonderful craftsmen and great listeners, who gave me exactly what I wanted,” Annabelle Kressman says. “Working in a kitchen that is 10 feet by 10 feet is a pleasure because everything is within reach.”
Kressman has enjoyed entrepreneurial pursuits after serving as executive director of the Girl Scouts of the Chesapeake Bay Council. Her husband, Hank, retired after a career in labor relations at Atlas. They devote much of their time to the community and friends, so entertaining is a priority.
To that end, most of the square footage reclaimed from the kitchen and fireplace went to a spacious formal dining area that is open to the living room. A large window with folding shutters connects the space with the kitchen.
“We can set dishes on the pass-through—or close the doors when we want the kitchen to go away,” she says.
The set of six Chippendale-inspired chairs, first sold at John Wanamaker’s department store in 1901, were bought at a house auction in Salem County, N.J., where Kressman grew up. She started buying antiques at estate sales and auctions as a young mother of four, taking the kids along so they could bid on beds and bureaus for their rooms.
There was a hole in the exuberantly patterned blue-and-rose vintage Heriz carpet under the dining room table, so Kressman snapped it up for a mere $100.
The dry sink was passed down by Hank’s mother. “I remember her washing dishes in it on our family’s farm in Bucks County,” he says. “We like old things, furniture that comes with a story.”
A wet bar with a built-in fridge allows guests to serve themselves at parties. It also provides extra storage for glassware.
“If it’s Thanksgiving, there has got to be champagne,” Annabelle Kressman says, “and the glasses are right here, ready for us to pop that cork.”
She sets the holiday table with blue-and-white china made in Germany in the 1800s and handed down from Hank’s grandmother. Gold chargers add an extra touch of glamour.
The Kressmans discovered the ornate brass chandelier in an antiques shop in Manhattan and brought it home to Delaware. The piece is embellished with royal blue glass and enamel, a hallmark of Empire design, a 19th century movement inspired by classic Greek and Roman design.
“That bit of color brings the whole table together,” she says.
Annabelle has an affinity for blue, especially the clear, true blue of a sapphire.
Sapphire is a gem on the color wheel, a vibrant and classic hue that is compatible with yellow, red, and various shades of cream and white.
Choosing a color based on personal preference rather than prevailing trends also gives a space a timeless look that never goes out of fashion. (Remember mauve and gray? Your mom’s avocado appliances?)
Sapphire is the connecting thread that runs throughout the rooms on the main floor. Decorative painter Vicki Vinton combed blue paint onto the walls of the den to create the look of linen.
In the formal living area, a pair of salmon-colored sofas cozy up to blue paisley pillows. Floor-to-ceiling built-in cupboards are painted glossy white, a crisp contrast to sparkling blue art glass.
“There’s a tremendous amount of storage underneath, very easy to access for entertaining,” Annabelle Kressman says.
An open staircase with a two-story expanse of wall is ideal for displaying art, meaningful pieces the Kressmans have collected for years. She is passionate about art and launched the Annabelle Project, which provides framed paintings and prints for new homeowners in the Habitat for Humanity program.
The Kressmans’ collection includes a rendering of the Wilmington Flower Market by Carolyn Anderson, an oil painting of Delaware beach dunes by Scott Cameron and a wistful interpretation of flowers by Mary Page Evans. Annabelle’s daughter-in-law, Assunta Sera, created the impressionistic swirl of passengers in New York’s Grand Central Station.
“Many of the paintings are by people I know, a number of them from Delaware,” she says.
Cleveland Morris, longtime artistic director of the Delaware Theatre Company, painted the still life of peaches that hangs in the dining area.
“The blue velvet is so real you feel like you can touch it,” she says.
Annabelle Kressman is a style consultant for Doncaster, an upscale fashion shopping service. Dressing the part requires an extensive personal wardrobe. To keep clothes, accessories and shoes accessible and organized, she turned to California Closets to design and install a custom walk-in closet.
To maximize space, shelves, rods and cubbyholes are stacked from floor to ceiling, with seldom-used items placed in the highest, least-accessible spots. Open shelving for shoes makes it easy to spot the perfect pair of pumps. Handbags are neatly displayed in cubicles. A central island is outfitted with drawers for accessories.
Good lighting is an essential element in a closet—you need to be able to survey the contents on a dark winter morning—so don’t skimp on the wattage. It’s also an opportunity to add bling by mounting a chandelier over the island.
But what about off-season clothes? Don’t they deserve a lovely home, too?
The Kressmans transformed a seldom-used closet in a guest bedroom into a cedar closet, keeping clothes fresh between seasons.
“Guests typically don’t stay long enough to need a whole closet,” Hank Kressman says. “A cedar closet is a more sensible use of space.”
Large balconies overlook the river from both the main floor living area and master bedroom. Inside, they provide abundant natural light and a vista of the urban skyline.
Outside, the Kressmans say, “We watch big turtles sunning themselves on rocks. You would never know that you are in the middle of a city.”
The upper balcony is a quiet place to read or contemplate the stars at night. The lower balcony is the couple’s private al fresco bistro, their favorite place to dine well into fall.
“Autumn is the best time to eat outdoors, especially when you live on the eighth floor,” he says. “The birds are migrating and we see geese fly by in perfect formation—right at our eye level.”